All three of my kids got all their shots. Every stinging needle, every dose was dutifully administered as a normal part of their childhood. I felt that getting their vaccinations was my responsibility as their parent, just like getting them on the school bus, feeding them at least three times a day and trying to limit their television and internet time. I really didn’t give their immunizations a lot of thought. It was simply the clinically proven way to prevent a multitude of long-forgotten, but still tragic, diseases.
My kids were still young when the vaccine to prevent certain strains of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) was approved. The vaccination schedule recommends beginning the three-dose series at age 11 or 12, although it’s approved for kids as young as nine. While contracting HPV is not a serious illness itself, the infection is known to cause nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
I was baffled to hear that some parents resist the vaccine. Why? The virus is transmitted sexually. I get it. Nobody wants to think of their 9-year-old having sex. Ever. But here’s the thing. Vaccination must occur before exposure to the virus. At age 9, 10, 11… yes, I could say definitively that my kids were not sexually active. Would I be just as sure once they entered middle school? Sure, hopefully. High school? Um, maybe? That’s why getting the vaccine at such an early age makes sense, and it’s not like getting a shot is going to make kids promiscuous. (Seriously, studies have shown getting the vaccine does not encourage sexual activity.)
As I learned about HPV and the silent damage the infection can do, not only leading to cervical cancer, but to oral cancers, head and neck cancers, genital cancers and genital warts, too, the decision to vaccinate my kids was a no-brainer, even for my son. Because HPV is so common, it was highly likely that when he did become sexually active, he would contract the virus, probably not know it (most people don’t have any symptoms) and pass it on to others.
In my mind, I flash-forwarded through his life and realized that I could protect him and potentially a future daughter-in-law from cervical and other cancers. And right now I could protect my daughters. With the HPV vaccine, I had a limited window-of-opportunity to give my family their best shot at a future without these cancers. As their mother, I am glad I took it.